Community Blog: The EDge

About face: Meridian board, North Star come to an agreement

In a quick about-face, the Meridian School District and North Star Charter School have a deal for 2013-14.

On Thursday morning, the school board rescinded its plans to revoke the cash-strapped Eagle school’s operating charter. Board members gave their unanimous approval to a plan designed to keep the school afloat through June 30.

This vote came two months after the district took the initial steps to revoke the K-12 school’s charter — resulting in tense public sparring between the state’s largest school district and one of Idaho’s largest charter schools.

But during a brief and cordial meeting Thursday, the board and North Star officials looked to make peace. School Board members said they never had concerns with North Star’s academic performance and acknowledged that North Star officials were burdened with bad debts negotiated by their predecessors. Trustees also went out of their way to address a recurring claim during the controversy: the allegation that Meridian wanted to shut down North Star in order to absorb its students and collect an increase in state funding.

“There was never any ill-intent or conspiracy,” board member Mike Vuittonet said.

For its part, North Star officials came back Thursday with an amended financial plan that addressed the district’s concerns.

  • First, North Star’s creditors have agreed to forgo $830,000 in payments for 2013-14 — with the money due July 10. The original due date was June 30, but the 10-day delay is significant, because it pushes back the payments into the 2014-15 budget year. Under the state law that was in place when Meridian started the revocation process, a school district is expected to consider a charter school’s financial viability for one budget year — and trustees were unsure the school would remain solvent through the 2013-14 budget year.
  • Second, creditors agreed to give North Star a five-day grace period to file any overdue paperwork during 2013-14. Originally, the school had no such grace period — and trustees were worried that creditors could decide to shut down the school on a moment’s notice, and force the school district to find room for North Star students.
Jim Miller
Jim Miller, North Star Charter School board

North Star is working with creditors to renegotiate its long-term building loan. This is North Star’s largest financial obstacle, as the school is saddled with $12 million in loans at interest rates of 9.5 to 9.75 percent. The school hopes to have a new arrangement in place by Feb. 28. “We’re looking at different ways to structure that,” board chairman Jim Miller said Thursday.

Meanwhile, the school board and North Star will negotiate this year to move the school out from under the district’s jurisdiction. North Star would prefer to operate under the state’s charter school commission, and on Thursday, school board members endorsed the idea.

North Star opened Thursday for 2013-14 classes. The school is expecting enrollment of 965, Miller said.

Kevin Richert is a reporter and blogger at Idaho Education News (idahoednews.org). Kevin is a former Statesman editorial page editor, with 27 year's experience in Idaho journalism.

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